SOUTH LOOP — When chef Alain Njike and Chicago Bear Israel Idonije were evicted in September from 1355 S. Michigan Ave., where they'd just opened Alain's, neighbor Debbie Joyce was disappointed.
"It's a shame," said Joyce, a nurse who has lived at 16th Street and Prairie Avenue for the last five years. "We could use more nice restaurants in the South Loop. I hope another one replaces it soon."
Longtime South Loop residents Moe Hammad and Jamil Kanan have good news for their neighbors like Joyce: In four to six weeks, they plan to open Kurah Mediterranean Tapas in the vacant space.
Kurah (pronounced like "Bora") will be a two-story restaurant with an "intimate" vibe, Hammad said.
The restaurant will have 8-10 tables on the lower level, another 8-10 tables on a partial mezzanine jutting over the 14-foot bar, and a semi-private dining room for eight in the back.
Business partners Hammad and Kanan already own and operate the South Loop Market in three locations together, but for a while they were hesitant to get into the restaurant business.
"Jamal and I have long wanted to do [this], but obviously, as you know, breaking into the restaurant business is not as easy as other retail," Hammad said. "You really have to have another piece."
When the Alain's space was put up for rent, they each called the Realtor within 30 minutes of each other to see if it would be available. Hammad thought that was a sign that the time was right.
Kanan said they're confident they've found that "other piece" — Chef Daniel Sarkis, who has agreed to take a break from his own eatery, Zaytune in Bridgeport, to be the head chef at Kurah, Kanan said.
"We met him a couple years ago and we really loved his food, first and foremost, and then we just liked what he was doing with his restaurant and some of the ideas he had," Hammad said. "The idea was born from that."
Hammad says that if his unmet cravings are any indication, his neighbors will be pleased with the new restaurant's menu, too.
"We've been living here for years, and every time we've had a taste for falafel or something Mediterranean, we couldn't find an option that wasn't fast food," Kanan said. "There just aren't enough restaurants in that area, and we thought that Mediterranean would be something that South Loopers can enjoy."